How have you gone about finding overseas distributors?
In August last year we attended the Sydney International Spa and Beauty Expo and we had a number of leads from that. That was the first time we had done a trade show with Plantae by ourselves. In October 2012, as part of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's Path to Market programme for Taiwan, we also attended the Taiwan Organic Expo, which was great for contacts. We want to make sure we go to a trade show every year to be proactive in our search for distributors.
Every week we also get inquiries through our website from potential distributors, and a while ago we put a message out on LinkedIn asking for interest from anyone wanting to wholesale/distribute cosmetics. We had quite a lot of replies to that, and although a few were scams, we had some high-quality leads, including one from what is now our Netherlands distributor.
What do you look for in a distributor?
That they're experienced and that a core part of their business is distributing cosmetics, preferably natural and organic. We're looking for companies that are well set up, established and organised.
How do you vet potential distributors?
An Auckland company, called Katabolt, was recommended to us. We were told that it was good at helping young companies looking to export, so we've been working with it since the middle of last year. It helped us to create a process to qualify potential distributors that would save us time, because we're a small company and everyone is juggling lots of roles. So now we have a document that we get people to fill in, which covers the basics about their operation. I then review those inquiries and if any look promising I'll take them to the team, and they may have some more questions, which I'll follow up on by email. Then once we've agreed a potential distributor is worth pursuing, I'll lock in a Skype call with them. A video call is so important because you do get a sense of who the people are. The Skype calls take a bit more organisation, as well, so it can show they're motivated. From there on it's lots and lots more Skype calls and emails - you have to be in constant communication.
Has the process thrown up any thorny issues for the company?
Going into the EU market has thrown up some regulatory issues, which we're addressing, but it takes time. We've been worried it could affect our relationship with our European distributor, because we don't want either party to feel under too much stress and there have been a lot of question marks around time frames. We're working hard to make sure it doesn't affect our relationship - we're very transparent and honest with them and they're the same.
Janelle Priest is sales and marketing manager for certified organic skincare brand Plantae, which exports through distributors in South Korea, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia.